In 2015 to celebrate reviewing for five years I started a series entitled Five of the Best where I chose my favourite five star reads which I’d read in that month. I will be celebrating Five years of blogging later this year and so I decided it was time to repeat the series.
As I found when putting this post together my reads in August tend to be a mixed bunch as I attack my TBR for 20 Books of Summer but this is also the time of year when I review some real gems!
You can read my original review of the book featured by clicking on the book cover.
My choice for August 2014 is The Secret Place by Tana French – a writer of exceptional talent who has written a series of crime books that are all completely unique. This is my favourite of them all though even five years on!
When a boy is found murdered in the grounds of an exclusive girl’s school the police need to penetrate the secretive world of teenage girls, not a task for the faint-hearted. Not only does this book have all the requisite ingredients for a great read; characters, plot and pace, it is also an enormously fun read, so much so I dubbed it ‘Mallory Towers for Grown Ups’
An absolutely compelling read that shouldn’t be missed.
The photo shows a boy who was murdered a year ago.
The caption says, ‘I KNOW WHO KILLED HIM’.
Detective Stephen Moran hasn’t seen Holly Mackey since she was a nine-year-old witness to the events of Faithful Place. Now she’s sixteen and she’s shown up outside his squad room, with a photograph and a story.
Even in her exclusive boarding school, in the graceful golden world that Stephen has always longed for, bad things happen and people have secrets. The previous year, Christopher Harper, from the neighbouring boys’ school, was found murdered on the grounds. And today, in the Secret Place – the school noticeboard where girls can pin up their secrets anonymously – Holly found the card.
Solving this case could take Stephen onto the Murder squad. But to get it solved, he will have to work with Detective Antoinette Conway – tough, prickly, an outsider, everything Stephen doesn’t want in a partner. And he will have to find a way into the strange, charged, mysterious world that Holly and her three closest friends inhabit and disentangle the truth from their knot of secrets, even as he starts to suspect that the truth might be something he doesn’t want to hear. Amazon
In July 2015 I was caught up in the psychological thriller Burnt Paper Sky now known as What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan, which examines the story behind the ‘missing child’ headlines. A big part of this book is to examine how we react to such news as presented by the media.
This is the story of an investigation with a difference as the main thrust of the book looking at the characters involved, including Ben’s close family, his aunt and his mother’s oldest friend along with other secondary characters. The timeline is kept linear so that the reader shares the frustrations of those looking for answers whilst giving them space to try out their own theories.
A brilliant example in what has become a crowded genre and in my opinion one that shouldn’t be missed.
Rachel Jenner turned her back for a moment. Now her eight-year-old son Ben is missing.
But what really happened that fateful afternoon?
Caught between her personal tragedy and a public who have turned against her, there is nobody left who Rachel can trust. But can the nation trust Rachel?
The clock is ticking to find Ben alive.
WHOSE SIDE ARE YOU ON? Amazon
I’ve chosen a nonfiction read for 2016’s choice, Did She Kill Him? by Kate Colqhoun which examines the life of Florence Maybrick, a Victorian lady living in Liverpool and tried for murder in August 1889.
The author has used an unusual but exceptionally effective structure in her examination as to whether Florence did poison her husband using arsenic. First we are presented with the facts in line with a more generous view of Florence than she is given by many researchers (I have read a few books featuring this suspected murderess). Then, towards the end the author presents the evidence from the other perspective, if Florence did harbour murderous intent, how do the facts stack up then! A brilliant construct underpinned by sterling research resulted in a fabulous read.
In the summer of 1889, young Southern belle Florence Maybrick stood trial for the alleged arsenic poisoning of her much older husband, Liverpool cotton merchant James Maybrick.
‘The Maybrick Mystery’ had all the makings of a sensation: a pretty, flirtatious young girl; resentful, gossiping servants; rumours of gambling and debt; and torrid mutual infidelity. The case cracked the varnish of Victorian respectability, shocking and exciting the public in equal measure as they clambered to read the latest revelations of Florence’s past and glimpse her likeness in Madame Tussaud’s.
Florence’s fate was fiercely debated in the courtroom, on the front pages of the newspapers and in parlours and backyards across the country. Did she poison her husband? Was her previous infidelity proof of murderous intentions? Was James’ own habit of self-medicating to blame for his demise?
Historian Kate Colquhoun recounts an utterly absorbing tale of addiction, deception and adultery that keeps you asking to the very last page, did she kill him? Amazon
My pick for August 2017 is one of the best examples of an author using a true crime as inspiration, a sub-genre which preoccupied my reading during 2017 but the most outstanding of them all was Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood which tells the story of Grace Marks accused of killing Thomas Kimner and his housekeeper Nancy Montgomery.
Set in Canada this author demonstrates her exceptional skill in making her reader’s believe that this really is an account of Grace, telling her story and putting the record straight. The portrayal of a woman, imprisoned for many years for a crime she did not commit? Was it all down to her accomplice or do the things she reveals in her accounts about her mistress, her life before and her ambitions indicate that she is guilty – the reader decides. Absolutely fabulous I read the book prior to watching the serialisation on Netflix which is also well worth watching – I wanted a quilt by the time I’d watched them being created by the actress who played Grace, Sarah Gedddon.
Sometimes I whisper it over to myself: Murderess. Murderess. It rustles, like a taffeta skirt along the floor.’
Grace Marks. Female fiend? Femme fatale? Or weak and unwilling victim? Around the true story of one of the most enigmatic and notorious women of the 1840s, Margaret Atwood has created an extraordinarily potent tale of sexuality, cruelty and mystery. Amazon
August 2018 reviews were a bit of a mixed bunch but there was one crime fiction read that stood out; The Dry by Jane Harper set in Australia during a drought the weather is integral to the storyline.
In fact this police procedural is really two solid mysteries, both well-plotted and convoluted enough to keep the keenest of minds whirring away. But the real skill is Jane Harper’s ability to bring the characters to life. Now you may not like them all but you won’t forget many of them, I can assure you of that. So not only do you have brilliant plotting you also have great characters the small town setting which alongside the weather which should they be placed in the dock, would surely be pronounced guilty.
If you haven’t read this book, I truly urge you to do so.
WHO REALLY KILLED THE HADLER FAMILY?
I just can’t understand how someone like him could do something like that.
Amid the worst drought to ravage Australia in a century, it hasn’t rained in small country town Kiewarra for two years. Tensions in the community become unbearable when three members of the Hadler family are brutally murdered. Everyone thinks Luke Hadler, who committed suicide after slaughtering his wife and six-year-old son, is guilty.
Policeman Aaron Falk returns to the town of his youth for the funeral of his childhood best friend, and is unwillingly drawn into the investigation. As questions mount and suspicion spreads through the town, Falk is forced to confront the community that rejected him twenty years earlier. Because Falk and Luke Hadler shared a secret, one which Luke’s death threatens to unearth. And as Falk probes deeper into the killings, secrets from his past and why he left home bubble to the surface as he questions the truth of his friend’s crime. Amazon
Five of the Best 2018